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Tracking down the history of local viticulture, we find that for a long time no distinctions were made between wines from the northern shore and those from the south. For instance, the Bishopric of Veszprem in the 14th century maintained well-tended vineyards south of the Lake, whose crop was vinified to make what was simply called “Balaton wine.” Red wine grapes gained ground in the area during the era of Ottoman Occupation, and remained decisive until the onslaught of phylloxera. In the late 19th century, the southern shore was divided into smaller wine districts. The Kethely district between the Nagyberek, a wooded marshland on the southwest shore, and Kisbalaton, a small lake connected with Lake Balaton by the Zala River, produced mainly red wines. The sandy vineyards between Balatonkeresztur an Balatonszarszo typically made siller, a type of very light red bordering on rose, while the district between Siofok and Balatonfokajar was known for both white and red wines.

The phylloxera which wiped out two thirds of the country’s vines did not spare the Balaton region, where only Mount Badacsony emerged relatively unscathed, thanks to the measure of applying carbon disulphide in the vineyards. The Hungarian State spared no effort in trying to mitigate the damage. It disbursed loans for vineyard reconstruction, promoted awareness among growers, and encouraged plantation in locations with a loose sandy soil, known to be immune to the root louse. One of these new vineyards was the Mariatelep property, established in 1891 on an extensive grazing range donated to the government by Count Taszilo Festetics. The main grapes chosen for plantation here were Olaszrizling, Zoldszilvani, Ezerjo, and Nagy-burgundi (“Great Burgundy,” today known as Kekfrankos) as the single red-wine variety. This project exemplified the rising tendency toward a preference for white wine grapes in the area. Although the Festetics property and the estate owned by the Benedictine abbey in Tihany evolved an advanced local culture of grapes and wines, the region as a whole did not begin to flourish until large-scale plantations were carried out toward the middle of the 20th century. Red wines also started to make a comeback at this time.

In the late 1800’s and the first half of the 20th century, the wine region went by the name of Balaton-melleke, and between the two World Wars was also referred to as the Somogy-Zala region. In 1949, it lost its wine region status, to be reinstated in this right in 1982 as the Del-Balaton (“South Balaton”) region. Two villages were added to it in 1997. In 2001, regulators yielded to pressure from BB and renamed the region as Balatonboglar, effectively giving precedence to a lobby over public interest. It would be nice to know what compelling arguments the agents of the winery proposed to convince the decision-makers that the name of a village with mostly mediocre wines, and a natural potential no better than in other communes in the area, should be chosen to lend its name to the region.

Today, Kiralyleanyka is the area’s leading grape variety, followed by Chardonnay, Zold Veltelini, Olaszrizling, and Rizlingszilvani. There are smaller quantities of Rajnai Rizling, Sarga and Ottonel Muskotaly, Tramini and Sauvignon Blanc. Red wine grapes are represented by Merlot, Kekfrankos, the two Cabernets, Pinot Noir, Zweigelt, and Kekoporto.
One of the country’s largest sources of mass-produced wines, the region has recently made a whole-hearted commitment to controlled vinification methods, at least as far as white wines are concerned. Fruity, aromatic and light, these wines tend toward softness on the vast lower end of the scale, but the better Pinot Blanc, Kiralyleanyka and Chardonnay bottles can be fabulously elegant and vibrant in their acidity. In the quality light wine category, there is some very agreeable dry Irsai Oliver and Szurkebarat to be had. As a curiosity, the Oregbaglas Winery makes a varietal Semillon and increasingly fine naturally sweet wines.

The cellar rows at the Janos-hegy, Boroca-hegy and Hosszudulo vineyards between the villages of Buzsak and Taska are well worth a visit—not for their wines so much as for their quaint historic appeal.

Area: 2899 hectares.

Climate: consolidated.

Vine varieties, wines: Italian Riesling, Yellow Muscat – fruit fragrance, rich in aroma, slightly acidic, elegant white wines. Chardonnay – fine, lively acidic, elegant. Cabernet, Merlot, Kekfrankos: – fine, velvety red wines .

For more interesting information: > Hungarian wines and wine regions (authors: Zoltán Benyák, Tibor Dékány) > Terra Benedicta 2003: Tokaj and Beyond (authors: Rohály Gábor, Mészáros Gabriella, Nagymarosy András)

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